There’s an old saying — a very old saying — in thoroughbred horse racing that asserts: “pace makes the race.” And that pearl of wisdom will be put to the test in the Grade II Barbara Fritchie Handicap at Laurel Park on Saturday.
For those who care, the race’s namesake was a spirited old lady who supposedly waved a Union flag in the middle of the street as Stonewall Jackson and his troops marched through Frederick, Maryland, inspiring a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier.
Unfortunately, the story is about as historically accurate as those told by Aesop. As it turns out, it was Mary Quantrell, Fritchie’s neighbor, who waved the flag… but what in the world rhymes with “Quantrell?”
Anyway, I digress. As a horse race, the Barbara Fritchie offers a fascinating look into the world of pace and jockey tactics.
Since donning blinkers on Sept. 19, Hot City Girl has yet to be headed at the first — or second — call in any race, which includes three wire-to-wire scores and a ½-length defeat in the Grade I La Brea, which, like the Fritchie, is a seven-furlong affair.
The daughter of City Zip has the best overall early speed rations in the field and the projected pace of Saturday’s featured eighth race is on the slow side (-4 ESR)… which brings us to last year’s winner, Lady Sabelia.
Lady Sabelia led from flag fall to finish in the 2015 Barbara Fritchie and held on to win by 1 ½ lengths while registering a -6 ESR. Since that time, however, she has seemed to reach a new level by rallying from just off the pace, which she did in each of her two 2016 starts — both impressive wins.
So what are the tactics on Saturday?
The answer to that question may well decide who the next poem is written about.